There’s a new comedy called God Friended Me on CBS about an atheist podcaster whose life changes after he gets a Facebook friend request from God. In the show, the main character is given guidance by the account, leading him to do things like help a woman reconcile some family drama and stop a man who is about to take his own life.
In real life, people have done many things because God told them to, from invading Iraq to spending 37 years constructing a giant ball of twine. While neither of those things involved Facebook, there’s obviously something very powerful about the whole listening to God thing.
In an effort to bring about some change in my world, I decided to follow in the footsteps of whatever the main character is called on God Friended Me, and spend an entire day attempting to follow God’s will.
As the show revolves around Facebook, I figured Facebook would be a good place to start. A few days before my experiment, I hit up some of the God accounts with the most likes to see if they would be willing to give me some guidance. I also contacted a man who claims he’s the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, and, via email, a couple in Australia who believe they’re Mary and Jesus.
The only one to respond was a God parody account that has almost 4 million followers. The atheist who runs the account wouldn’t give me His name, as He says He and his family have received death threats in the past because of His online mockery of God, but He did tell me that pretending to be God on the internet is a full-time job for Him. “I get a hundred messages a day or more,” he wrote. “They realize it’s a humor page, but they also know that I talk to people and offer guidance… I end up talking to a lot of Atheists in crisis.”
This particular God was actually quite angry with the makers of God Friended Me, as He feels the concept of the show was stolen from Him. “I believe they were clearly inspired by my page,” He wrote.
When I asked what I should do with my day, He told me his first piece of advice would be that I never watch God Friended Me, and also that I go to the pier, feed a homeless person, register to vote, call my parents to tell them I love them, and stay off the internet.
Never watching God Friended Me, registering to vote, and staying off the internet were all off the table (because I already watched it, I’m not a citizen, and I need the internet to write this post) but I told Him I would do the other stuff.
Next, I reached out to Colette Brown, a clairvoyant who’s previously written a book that touches on bibliomancy, a form of divination using sacred books that dates back hundreds of years. I asked her how to get God on the line.
“The easiest way to do it is to get your book and really focus on whatever your question is,” Brown told me via Facebook video chat, instructing me to close my eyes and broadcast my question to “God, higher spirit, source, self—it doesn’t really matter.”
Next, she told me to take a pin and use it to open the Bible at random before sticking it in a random word on the page. After broadcasting the question "what should I do today?" I ended up on the word Egypt in the sentence “This Egypt, the staff on which you rely, is in fact a broken reed which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it,” from Isaiah 36:6.
Brown’s interpretation was that the staff represented the concept of this article, which isn’t as strong as I think it is. (Burn.) “What I would take from this is simply that there’s some stuff that’s gonna work, and there’s some that’s not going to work,” she said.
She wasn’t sure of the significance of the word Egypt, and I couldn’t think of anything in my life it might relate to, but told me that I should keep my eyes peeled during my day for any kind of sign that might help me figure out its significance.
And then. A sign.
My drive to the pier took me past the California Science Center, which currently has a big Tutankhamun exhibition going on.
I almost went to the exhibition a couple of months earlier, but at $30, I felt it was a little too pricey. But this time, because God sent me there, I was able to justify expensing my ticket to VICE. Praise be.
As I wandered the exhibit, I attempted to find some kind of sign that might reveal what else I should do with my day. But Egyptian stuff is so rich with symbols and metaphors that you could find pretty much any meaning you want to find in them.
I could’ve continued down the hole of using signs from God to fund fun activities on VICE’s dime—by interpreting the burial garments as a sign I should buy some fancy pajamas, or the burial chamber game board as a sign I should go play video games—but I decided that would be dishonest, so headed to the beach to carry out Facebook God’s instructions instead.
The first of those instructions was to buy some food and give it to a homeless person. I got talking to a man who was seated on a bench by a food truck with a sign saying he needed food. He rejected the term homeless (“The definition of homeless is you’re derelict and without a country. I’m in my country. Your home is your country. I’m an indigent person that lives out.”) but requested some steak tacos and a Coke from a nearby food truck. Which was a nice use of $7 of VICE’s money, thank you Facebook God.
I called my parents and told them I loved them, then headed over to the pier. I don’t go there very often because it’s mega touristy, but it was sunny and there were birds and it was actually quite a bit nicer than I expected. As I was leaving, I saw a table with a sign that read “free meditation books.”
I explained to the guy at the table what I was writing, and he said his books would help me in my quest. He told me they were free, but asked that I make a donation. “I don’t think I have any cash…” I said instinctively, just as I do any time I hear the word “donation.”
“We’re high-tech monks,” he said, producing a Square card reader.
Five dollars later, I ended up with three books. “You will get lots of inspiration by reading these,” he said as I departed.
Back in my car, I decided to have a google around to find a representative of God who could give me instructions on what to do next. I found several religious advice hotlines that I figured I’d call throughout my day.
First I dialed a number operated by the Mormon Church that allows you to chat with a missionary. My call was answered by two women named Sister Tuia and Sister Reynolds, who are based at the Mormon Temple in LA. They said they could help me on my quest, but it would be easier if we spoke in person.
Thirty minutes later I was in the temple's visitor center—a very expensive-looking exhibition on the Mormon Church’s history and beliefs, spread across several rooms with fake rockwork and period theming. Like a Mormon-themed restaurant at Disney World.
I asked if they had any idea what God would want me to be doing with my day, and they made me watch a short documentary on a Mormon missionary named John that didn’t really give me any answers. Then they took me into a room with an exhibit on the importance of family. Because I’m a man and I have a boyfriend, the conversation turned to the church’s beliefs on same-sex relationships. “We believe that marriage should only be between a man and a wife,” said Sister Reynolds, before suggesting I check out a website called mormonandgay.org.
When I asked if there was some sort of activity I could do, that day, that God would want me to do, Sister Reynolds invited me to a mixer they were throwing that evening at the temple for young single adults.
I’m not single, so I declined. Hopefully she just hadn’t realized I wasn’t single, and wasn’t suggesting I attempt to enter a relationship with a Mormon woman and throw myself into a lifetime of severely mentally damaging repression as per the instructions on the website she recommended.
She handed me a Book of Mormon as I left, and told me that if I wanted to serve the will of God, I should read the introduction.
Back in my car, I tuned in to KKLA FM, a Christian radio station, in the hopes it might offer some guidance. Continuing the LGBTQ theme, the station had a Christian therapist on who was discussing a transgender woman he’d recently met with. “Once your biology is what it is, it doesn’t change,” he said. “This guy is depressed and suicidal, and is it a he or a she? It wants to be called a she but it’s a he and it’s trying to look as much like a she as he can and [is] totally confused.”
He didn’t specify which part of the Bible made him treat her like that. I drove home.
Once home, I called 877-WHY-ISLAM, a toll free hotline for people curious about Islam. I explained what I was doing, and the man I spoke to said God would want me to read the Quran, and that he could send me a free copy that would arrive in two weeks. I already had a lot of books, and my experiment was due to end in an hour, so I declined his offer and sat down with the ones I’d already gathered throughout the day.
I started with the introduction of the Book of Mormon, as recommended by Sister Reynolds. It basically said I could be brought nearer to God if I followed the teachings within the Book of Mormon. Which felt like something I didn’t really have time for.
Next I turned to Chant and Be Happy: The Power of Mantra Meditation, which was one of the free books that cost me $5 on the pier. I only scanned it, but most of the book seemed to be saying that, basically, you can achieve enlightenment and happiness and success and a bunch of other stuff by chanting “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
While I was trying to figure out how I could use that advice to seek divine instructions, I read a part in the book that said there is no need “to understand the language of the mantra, nor is there any need for mental speculation nor any intellectual adjustment.” Which seemed like a sign to just start chanting.
After a few minutes of chanting, I was able to stop concentrating on the words and fell into a relaxed state. For some reason, all I could picture in my mind’s eye was Target. I tried to steer my brain in the direction of something a bit more holy, but no matter what I tried, I ended up back at Target.
As much as I wanted to interpret that as a message from God that I should just go finish my day up by shopping at Target, I decided to give one last religious adviser a call.
I called the hotline of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, because it was founded after a man named Tony Alamo was instructed to do so in a message from God. I also figured that a church that's been accused of being a cult and a hate group might give me some more direct advice than just reading a book.
I spoke with a woman named Serena (or maybe Selena or Sherena—she wouldn’t spell her name or give her last name because “we have a lot of our enemies that call on this line.”)
She told me that the only way I could do what God wants is to admit I’m a sinner, give myself over to God, and start my life all over again. She suggested a good first step would be to have a talk with my boyfriend: “You’re gonna have to say, ‘My friend, either I’m going to have to find a place to live or you’re gonna find another place to live.'"
My boyfriend wasn’t around and I was getting hungry, so I asked if she had any insight into what God might want me to get for dinner. She said that the Bible didn’t offer a huge amount of dietary advice other than a passage on shellfish in Leviticus, but the founder of their church believed it was important to keep the body healthy, so she suggested I get something green and alive. “Plus you’ve got another thing confronting you, you know. Your immune system, any day, could drop,” she said. “Because of that sin of being with a man.”
When I asked how having a boyfriend might affect my immune system, she told an anecdote about a member of her church who had sex with a man and became sick afterwards.
“Are you talking about AIDS?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “That’s something to consider. Just like I consider diabetes.”
She followed this advice by explaining some of the persecution her group has faced, telling me that their founder was “put in prison for 175 years for preaching the gospel—but they called it child abuse.”
As I ate my Tony Alamo–approved salad (expensed to VICE, praise be), I looked back on my day.
Overall, it was a nicer day than I would've had had I not asked for divine intervention. I got a free salad, and did a couple of fun activities.
I guess if it means you're going to get to spend a day out of the office doing nice activities and eating free salads, I would recommend you follow the word of God.
But if your interpretation of God's word means you're going to call a trans woman "it," or complain that someone was imprisoned for having sex with children, or join an organization that thinks it's cool to make people enter loveless marriages and spend their life in misery, maybe go atheist instead.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.